One of the great things about WordPress is the massive amount of themes that are available for the platform. With so many free and premium themes to choose from, your WordPress site can look vastly different from another site built on the same platform.
However, this large amount of choice can also have its downsides. Choosing just one theme from so many options can be very difficult. While the visual design and appearance of the theme will be the leading factor in whether you pick a certain product or not, the information in this guide aims to help you make an informed decision when choosing a WordPress theme.
Functionality via the Theme
From an objective standpoint, themes are best suited to handling the design of the site, while plugins should be used to deliver additional functionality. However, with many themes, this isn’t always the case. Some themes include many additional features, especially those that are related to the appearance and layout of your content, such as custom post types, content columns and layouts, buttons, and other presentation aids
From a theme developer’s perspective, the appeal of taking this approach is understandable. It gives them less products to support. As well as reducing the range of possible configurations to support such as those using the plugin with another developer’s theme. It can also prevent their hard work from being used elsewhere, by those installing the plugin without purchasing the accompanying theme.
The financial benefits of locking a customer into a theme club with a yearly subscription by including important functionality into the theme files can’t be overlooked either.
For the end user however, making use of features such as shortcodes that insert elements like buttons, columns layouts, and other page elements, as well as custom post types, which are part of the theme can have long term implications. If you choose a theme that provides much of its functionality thought the theme files, rather than a plugin, then switching themes in the future can be a painful process. However, if a plugin is used, then the theme can be changed, without removing the functionality that your content is dependent on.
With this in mind, it’s important to research how the additional features of the theme package are delivered. If there are no support-plugins included, and the theme brings a lot of additional functionality to WordPress then proceed with caution.
When selecting a theme for a website, it can be easy to get seduced by lots of flashy design features. This can include things like animations, fancy page scrolling, content sliders, and carousels. While these features might look like a good idea on first inspection, they can often be detrimental to the user experience and site performance in general.
It’s understandable when we’re handing over our cold hard cash for something to believe that we should go with the option that has the most bells and whistles in order to get the most value. However, just because something is ‘feature-rich’ and action packed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the competition.
A prime example of this is homepage content sliders. This poplar website feature was in vogue for most of 2013 and is still a core feature of many of the most popular WordPress themes available today. Carousels and sliders are certainly eye catching and seem to solve the problem of ‘how can I show off everything I am good at on one page?’
While making use of a homepage content slider might seem like an innocent enough decision to take, it can actually have many negative ramifications for your site such as:
- Almost nobody clicks on them
- They are annoying
- They make it difficult to find the actual page content
- Bad for conversions
- Negatively affect SEO
These sliders aren’t the only popular but bad piece of design that is being overused, but it’s something that is still very popular in terms of theme design and the number of plugins produced for adding this feature to a site.
If you find yourself drawn to a theme due its flashy features, rather than its overall design, then it might be worth doing a little research into how useful those features actually are.
Free Themes: A False Economy
Getting something for free can be very appealing, especially when there are plenty of paid options vying for your attention. However, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and this can sometimes be the case with free themes.
Although many legitimate theme developers do make some or all of their themes available for free, not to mention the bundled templates that come with WordPress, this isn’t always the case. Downloading a free theme from an unknown source could lead to problems with malware and other security issues.
There can be other things to take into consideration with free themes. Using a popular theme that is free could mean your site could be sharing its design and appearance with countless others out there.
Another point to consider is whether the free theme will be supported. If the theme isn’t used to promote the other offerings from a developer then there might be little incentive for them to dedicate as many hours to supporting the theme and providing updates for it in order to ensure it remains compatible with the WordPress core.
If you are concerned about the security of your theme, free or otherwise, then the Theme Authenticity Checker free plugin can scan your site and detect potentially malicious or unwanted code.
Support and Documentation
When choosing a theme, it’s important to know that it’s a product that is being well supported by its developers. Some theme clubs allow you to browse their support forums and online documentation before purchasing one of their themes.
This gives you a good opportunity to see how quickly user issues are responded to and dealt with before making a decision on the purchase. Also, as modern themes are becoming increasingly complicated in terms of features, it’s nice to have some solid documentation to follow in order to help you get the most out of the template.
Theme Options Control Panel
When it comes to setting up your theme, most of the work will be done through the theme options page. This control panel, depending on the theme, can allow you to complete tasks such as uploading a logo, changing the colour scheme, or inserting custom CSS.
As this is an important part of the theme, it’s a good idea to try and determine how usable this component is. While some theme developers might insist on creating their own custom options panels, this really isn’t necessary. Thanks to some excellent free plugins that allow you to easily add a well design options page to your theme, the number of themes doing it wrong should hopefully subside.
When it comes to choosing a theme for your WordPress site there are many factors that come into play. In most cases the deciding factor will be whether the theme is visually appealing or not, and then whether it is suitable for the type of site you are planning to build.
Hopefully by taking the above factors into consideration too, you can increase your chances of getting not only a great looking theme, but one that is well designed, easy to use and suitably supported and maintained, while also not including any seemingly innocent features which could be having a negative effect on your site.
What do you look for when selecting a theme and have you ever bought any you ended up regretting?